Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Holiday Pics: The Jewish Quarter

As is common in most major European cities, there is a sizeable Jewish community living in Prague and most of them can be found in the Jewish Quarter on the northwest part of town. Also knows as Josefov, the Prague Jewish Community has over one thousand years of history and this is the only Central European Jewish town-quarter that survived the holocaust.

We had to buy an admission ticket to enter the historical buildings and view the touristic sights and the ticket came with a yamulka which is a traditional head covering for men. We also had to wear proper / decent attire in order to get in. Well, I guess we won't have any problems in that department.

First up on the tour was the Old Jewish Cemetery. Founded in 1478, it is Europe's oldest surviving Jewish cemetery. People had to be buried on top of each other because of lack of space. There are about 12 layer and over 12,000 gravestones. 100,000 people are thought to have been buried here. Looking at the mess of tombstones, I am not surprised.

Then, we entered the Old New Synagogue. (There's an old old synagogue but that's been destroyed in the war.) Built around 1270, it is the oldest working synagogue in Europe and one of Prague's earliest Gothic buildings. On the eastern wall is the Holy Ark in which the Torah scrolls are kept, on the walls are Hebrew biblical abbreviations. We're not supposed to take pictures of just about anything inside, but what the heck.

Perhaps the most memorable place in this tour was the Pinkas Synagogue. Founded in 1479 by Rabbi Pinkas this synagogue was rebuilt many times over the centuries. Since after the WWII it has served as a memorial to all the 77,297 Jewish Czechoslovak victims of the Nazis. Their names are inscribed on the walls. There were also various torture devices as well as pictures of Nazi concentration camps on display. Now I can get a glimpse into the full horror that the European Jews went through during the holocaust. "Never again" indeed.

And this is IMHO the most beautiful building in all of Prague - the Spanish Synagague. Built in 1868 the Spanish synagogue was named after its striking Moorish interior. It houses an exhibition showing the life of the Jews in the Czech Republic from emancipation to the present day.

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